Popular Culture

The popular culture of Shanghai has been hybrid in nature from the beginning. In the late 19th century, Shanghai was one of the few Chinese cities where residents welcomed sojourners. This openness makes Shanghainese highly receptive to foreign cultures. It did not take long for local residents to transform their curiosity about foreigners (Item 47) to loyalty to Western culture, as reflected in the popularity of imported magazines and films on streets in Shanghai (Item 51), and the replacement of traditional Chinese wedding customs with Western styles (Item 53). A mixture of Eastern and Western influences eventually permeated various aspects of life, including fashion (Items 49 & 50), housing (Item 48), religion (Item 55), food and entertainment (Item 52).

Owing to the heavy international influence and Shanghainese creativity, Shanghai has a long-established reputation as a cultural and fashion center. It is not an exaggeration to say that Old Shanghai was the birthplace of everything considered modern in China. It was in Shanghai, for example, where the first motor car was driven; the first train tracks were laid, and the first electric light was turned on.

Throughout the years, Shanghai (上海) has gained a more poetic name by switching the character order to 海上, which is often used in unique terms such as Shanghai School of Art (海上画派 or 海派艺术) and Shanghai School of Culture (海上文化 or 海派文化). Shanghai School of Art, a hybrid of the literati tradition of Chinese art and Western painting skill, is an important group in modern art history. Ren Bonian (任伯年), as researched by UCI Art History Prof. Roberta Wue, was one of the virtuosos of the Shanghai School of Art (Item 56).